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Skulpturenpark, Photography Jennifer Rumbach / Stadtrevue
The door to the atrocities of the past: EL-DE-Haus, Photography Jennifer Rumbach / Stadtrevue
Art and prayers: Kunst-Station Sankt Peter, Photography Chris Franken
A hidden gem: Museum of East Asian Art, Photography Jennifer Rumbach / Stadtrevue

Arts, crafts and an eyewitness to the past

created by Jens Peter Koerver | |   urban culture

Cologne’s museum landscape encompasses far more than just the big names. Join us on a visit to four very different locations off the beaten tourist track

 The EL-DE-Haus chooses not to refer to itself as a museum, opting instead for a matter-of-fact description that translates as the National Socialism Documentation Centre of Cologne. Housed in a centrally located building from the 1930s, its name refers to the initials of its owner, Leopold Dahmen, who rented the building shell to the Gestapo – the official secret police of Nazi Germany – who were based here between 1935 and 1945. As the building survived the war largely undamaged, the Gestapo prison in the basement remained intact. A total of 1,800 inscriptions etched, written and drawn by detainees were laid bare in the cells. In many different languages, they bear direct and impressive witness to the horrors of the Nazi regime. The courtyard that can be accessed from the basement looks banal yet horrific – 400 people were murdered here. Now retained as a memorial site, this part of the EL-DE-Haus is supplemented by an extensive, multifaceted permanent exhibition on the first and second floors that details the Nazi era in Cologne with the aid of written and photographic testimonies. There is plenty of material to read in this joyless former office space, which is ideal for the subject matter in question. As there aren’t (yet) any translations of these numerous, sometimes scarcely legible documents, it’s a good idea to make use of the audio guide (in a choice of eight languages). There are also temporary exhibitions and special guided tours for children.

It’s just a few minutes’ walk from the hustle and bustle of Neumarkt to the calm of Kunst-Station Sankt Peter (St. Peter’s Art Station). Ever since the 1980s, the late Gothic building has helped to improve the relationship between the Catholic Church and contemporary art and music – while also serving as a busy parish church. On weekdays, when the pews have been removed, the church comes into its own as a first-class exhibition space. In a relaxed atmosphere, visitors can take in the works that form part of the changing exhibitions, most of which were created specifically for this space. The same goes for music: in addition to regular performances – and occasionally premieres – of contemporary chamber music, this is also the place to come to listen to the latest organ music.

If you’re not in the mood for art in closed spaces or want to take in some top-class sculptural works before heading off to the zoo, the Skulpturenpark (Sculpture Park) is well worth a visit and free of charge. Open since 1997 and situated close to both the zoo and the Rhine, these grounds feature a wide range of sculptures comprising 44 works in all. Some of it is easy to miss – a case in point being the slowly disappearing copper foil on the two entrance doors by Edith Dekyndt. Some is confusingly similar to the (cultivated) natural surroundings of the park: Mandla Reuter’s tree is positioned demonstratively in the middle of a path, but it is ultimately just a tree as well. Barry Flanagan’s large bronze sculpture of two dancing hares will appeal to lovers of the classic figurative genre, while Michael Sailsdorfer’s (real) helicopter is mysterious and Mary Bauermeister’s rustically wooden place of assembly cryptic at best. The architectural and utilitarian side of sculpture can be seen from Heimo Zobernig’s veritably spartan “Spartakus Catering”. If you want to take the weight off your feet, you can stop for a rest on the canopied benches. Some works belong to the permanent collection of the Sculpture Park, which is supported by a foundation. Others were introduced as part of the new installations that take place every two years. The current, tenth edition will remain on display until the end of 2022, after which some works will be ­replaced or rearranged and joined by new additions.

The Museum of East Asian Art is felt by many to be the most appealing of all the state art institutions in Cologne – and one of the least well known. This is in spite of its sophisticated architecture and enviable location amid the green surroundings of the Aachener Weiher pond. It showcases works from China, Japan and Korea, in particular classical pieces such as early Chinese pottery, some of which are up to around 5,000 years old. The diverse collection includes art and handcrafts ranging from the sacred to the secular, and from everyday works to rare masterpieces. As well as presenting sections of the collection and three exquisitely designed country rooms, there are agreeably sized exhibitions on specific themes. A perfect balance is struck between the information provided on each piece and its intrinsic aesthetic value, whether it is a bronze glockenspiel, a water dropper, a scholar’s rock, a magnificent imperial robe, a hat worn by Korean government officials, the sculpture of an ascetic monk, an absurd piece of lacquerware or an unassuming tea bowl. After leaving this stimulating environment, there are plenty of places to spend the rest of the day nearby. Particularly in the summer and at the weekend, the green fields surrounding the Aachener Weiher are a popular destination for parties and barbecues. If you prefer peace and quiet, you can cross Universitäts­strasse and walk or cycle along the Linden­thal canals, stopping to marvel at the Christi Auferstehung parish church designed by Gottfried Böhm before heading for the Stadtwald forest and leaving the city behind you.

(by Jens Peter Koerver)